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Wilson v. USA



On March 2, 1995, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California upheld the constitutionality of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Additionally, the court ordered the State of California to present a proposed plan for implementing the NVRA within 10 days of this decision.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld the district court's decision on July 25, 1995.

The NVRA, a federal law that went into effect on January 1, 1995, mandated that states requiring advance registration to vote in federal elections must permit voter registration by: mail-in application; simultaneous application with driver's license application, renewal, or change of address; and simultaneous application at disability and public assistance agencies as well as other agencies designated by the state. [1]

California Governor Pete Wilson filed suit in the district court against the federal government (including the FEC) on December 20, 1994. In his suit, Governor Wilson argued that the NVRA, as an unfunded federal mandate, was unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment, which reserves to the states those powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.


The district court, however, deemed that Article I, Section 4, of the Constitution does indeed delegate to the federal government the authority to enforce the NVRA:

"The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof, but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing [sic] Senators."


[1] The FEC is the federal agency entrusted with the development of a National Voter Registration Form. This form has been available since January 1. The FEC is also required to submit a report to Congress every 2 years assessing the impact of the National Voter Registration Act and suggesting improvements in voter registration forms and procedures.

Source:   FEC RecordMay 1995; Wilson v. USA, Nos. C 95-20042 JW and C 94-20860 JW (N.D. Cal. Mar. 2, 1995).